Perceived inequality of results and lack of role clarity is a very common issue that comes up with our family business clients. So one of the first things we ask is: do you have clearly defined roles and responsibilities? I’m amazed how often family members don’t have clear roles, responsibilities and business goals. The lack of clarity creates fertile breeding ground for resentment, disappointment and conflict within the extended family.
- Why do you think your business has avoided outlining clear roles and responsibilities for every position including those of family members?
- What are the positive business outcomes that will occur if you take time to clarify the roles and responsibilities?
- What will be the consequences if you continue to move forward with unclear roles?
- What are the one or two steps you could take to have greater role clarity and responsibility?
We encourage our clients to answer those questions honestly with themselves individually and then share with each other in a group setting. Here are the answers to those questions from our perspective.
Why do you think the business has avoided outlining clear roles and responsibilities?
Many family businesses avoid clearly outlining roles and responsibilities because they somehow feel greater clarity and responsibilities might lead to greater accountability which could lead to difficult conversations about performance.
Clear roles and responsibilities will prompt discussions about accountability for results. We encourage families to realize that conversations about accountability are a healthy and normal part of a strong business. That’s not to say that those conversations are always easy but they are always important.
An unwillingness to talk about responsibilities and results can be disastrous for the family business. When the family learns to discuss accountability in a professional and objective way it creates a more positive and professional atmosphere within the business.
Our experience has been that avoiding the difficult conversations becomes an obvious impediment for overall success that most nonfamily staff can see. Continuing to avoid the difficult conversations sends the wrong message to your entire staff.
What are the positive outcomes that will occur if you clarify roles and responsibilities?
The most positive outcomes we see when we help families clearly define their roles is a greater sense of confidence and autonomy in their work. Most people really appreciate knowing what’s expected of them. It’s the company’s job to help clearly define that and give employees the right resources and authority to produce results. When the family business begins to become more defined and structured in its roles it will be taking the first important step towards “professionalizing the firm”.
What are the consequences if you continue with unclear roles?
When a company has lack of clarity about roles and results it sends a subtle message to the entire organization about its overall role and results. When the company can take a strong and consistent approach to role clarity and accountability it sends a strong statement to everyone on the team about the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. It’s a great step towards creating a strong culture.
What are the one or two steps you can take to create greater role clarity and responsibility?
The easiest and first step is to create a job description and clear business goals for each position. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. You can start with asking each person to put together a bulleted list of their top responsibilities and the results that they believe they are responsible for creating. Those first two steps will give you a great foundation to continue the dialogue. Here’s a short video that also outlines how to create clear roles and responsibilities.